A blind veteran from Egremont in Cumbria is running the London Marathon for Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for vision-impaired ex-service men and women.
Darren Blanks, 35, lost his eyesight suddenly at 23 years old, and credits the charity with helping to improve his confidence and adjust to life without vision.
Mr Blanks said: “I’ve already run 39 marathons this year! The London Marathon will be number 40 - but this marathon is especially important to me as I am running it in memory of my friend, fellow blind veteran, and previous Vice President of the charity, Maria Pikulski.
“Maria died in August this year after a long illness and will be sadly missed by all those who came into contact with her.
“She was a huge inspiration to me and showed me what could be achieved, she was the first female blind veteran from the charity to run the London Marathon.”
Mr Blanks joined the King’s Royal Hussars in 2003. During his service he completed two tours of Iraq, in 2005 and 2007 and was then discharged from the military in 2008 as a paratrooper.
After leaving the military, he worked as a postman but retired when he lost his sight suddenly at the age of just 23, due to a hereditary condition, Leber’s Optic Neuropathy.
“When I lost my eyesight, I was angry, depressed, sad and confused and was questioning, why me?” he said.
“My cousin set to work raising money to try and buy some equipment that would help me. He was handed a leaflet for Blind Veterans UK, before that I hadn’t heard of the charity but I got in touch.
“I joined in 2011 and they have helped me massively. I was shown what others had achieved despite sight loss, which has helped my mental health and more practically I was provided with and shown how to use IT equipment, a scanner to read paperwork, a mobile phone, software for the phone, and a long cane.
“The biggest thing that Blind Veterans UK has done for me is given me the confidence to make the most of opportunities. Without the support and encouragement of the charity, I wouldn’t have travelled alone to Los Angeles to compete in a marathon, or experienced skiing.
“If you can imagine always looking through a frosted bathroom window, that is what I see every day. I’m also deaf in one ear.
“It is tiring trying to work out what other runners are going to do and constantly avoiding obstacles while running marathons but I feel amazing when I run and have further challenges in mind, including more international marathons.
“I am very thankful to Blind Veterans UK and to the veterans that welcomed me to the charity and helped me on my journey.”